In 1993, seven Black artists working in the Houston area (James Bettison, Bert Long, Jr., Jesse Lott, Rick Lowe, Floyd Newsum, Bert Samples, and George Smith) converted a block-and-a-half of derelict row houses into shared spaces serving the surrounding Third Ward, one of the city’s oldest African American neighborhoods. This urban cultural landscape now operates as the non-profit Project Row Houses and encompasses 40 properties across five city blocks that host and promote art initiatives, serve as affordable housing, and support neighborhood economic development.
This type of row house, also known as a shotgun house, is characterized by a linear plan fronted by a covered porch, ideally suited to provide shade and air circulation for narrow building lots. This building typology spread from West Africa to the Caribbean and eventually the Gulf Coast via the trans-Atlantic slave trade. After emancipation, the row house became a prevailing housing type in neighborhoods where Black communities settled, including Houston’s Historic Third Ward.
The 22 buildings that comprise the original Project Row Houses holdings include a double row of white, almost-identical structures originally built in the 1930s, with eleven houses lining Holman Street facing south, and a matching row abutting their rear property lines and facing north. The houses share an unfenced backyard dotted with live oaks. In the past, this shared backyard was a place of community building, as the north/south facing structures provided shade and there was more space to carry out daily household chores than within the confines of the houses. The front porches of the houses on Holman Street open onto lawn strips and a sidewalk made of cement and broken seashells. A row of multi-trunk crepe myrtles grows in the road verge. Today, some of the row houses serve as open studios for visiting artists, while others provide housing for single mothers. In addition to the original renovated 22 row houses, Project Row Houses has expanded its campus to include new structures in the surrounding neighborhood that further promote its mission to use art to transform community.